After being swept by No. 13 Arizona on the road last weekend, the USC baseball team looks to rebound on Tuesday against another difficult opponent in Long Beach State.
The Trojans were off to a strong start to the season, having won their first two Pac-12 series against Washington State and Arizona State. However, USC’s young and inexperienced pitching staff ran into trouble against a deep Arizona batting order.
The Trojans gave up five or more runs in all three games against the Wildcats, allowing an average of over eight hits per game. Freshman Chris Clarke, sophomore CJ Stubbs and sophomore Marrick Crouse were the weekend’s starting pitchers, and they ultimately all suffered losses against the best hitting team in the conference, as Arizona remained undefeated at home this spring.
USC’s inconsistency at the plate did little to help its struggling pitching staff. Trojan hitters produced some highlights in the first game, including a home run by senior catcher Cris Perez and an RBI double from freshman outfielder Matthew Acosta, but they could not keep pace with the Wildcats’ scoring output. In Saturday’s 5-1 defeat, Arizona pitchers Randy Labaut and Cody Deason combined to allow just one hit and one run, stifling the entire order.
The Trojan bats came back to life on Sunday, as they produced 10 hits, including an eighth-inning home run by senior outfielder Corey Dempster. But the team was unable to capitalize with runners in scoring position, and the Wildcats cruised to an 8-1 win and a sweep-clinching victory in the series.
As the team looks to bounce back following that disheartening series, USC goes up against a very solid 16-11 Long Beach State team. The Dirtbags hold victories over familiar Pac-12 foes Cal and Washington State, along with other major programs such as UNC and Oklahoma, and they have played to a sparkling 8-1 mark at home so far this year.
The tilt against Long Beach is also the second leg of a two-game season series between the Trojans and Dirtbags. In late February, the two sides played an 11-inning thriller in Dedeaux Field, with USC ultimately prevailing 4-3 thanks to a walk-off RBI single by redshirt junior shortstop Frankie Rios. USC will need strong efforts again from the likes of Rios (.307 batting average, 13 RBI) and sophomore first baseman Lars Nootbaar (.337 average, 22 RBI) again for the team to notch another victory over Long Beach — this time on the road.
Long Beach State boasts plenty of threats in its lineup, including junior catcher David Banuelos, who is currently hitting .326 to go along with four home runs. Junior infielder Ramsey Romano is hitting .337, good for eighth-best in the Big West Conference. The Dirtbag pitching staff has also been stellar this year with a team ERA of 3.45 — the 42nd-best in Division I baseball.
USC will begin its scrap with LBSU 30 miles south of campus at Blair Field. First pitch is slated for 6 p.m. The Trojans then return to Los Angeles for a weekend series with No. 21 Stanford, though the series will start on Thursday and conclude on Saturday instead of the usual Friday to Sunday format. Stanford was ranked
No. 11 last week before being swept at home by No. 1 Oregon State and falling to 2-4 in conference play.